Bernie Sherry

The Interview


Bernie Sherry

Wisconsin ministry market executive

Ascension Health

Employees: 18,000 in Wisconsin

Ascension Wisconsin recently celebrated a brand rollout across the health system’s facilities, the completion of a two-year effort to unify the brands of former competitors Columbia St. Mary’s and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, along with Ministry Health Care and Affinity Health System, under the umbrella of the country’s largest nonprofit health system. In recent months, Ascension Wisconsin has announced several new projects, including plans for a new clinic in Shorewood and a medical center in Racine. BizTimes reporter Lauren Anderson recently spoke with Bernie Sherry, Wisconsin ministry market executive for Ascension Health, about the health system’s growth strategy.

Credit: Lila Aryan Photography

What does the Ascension brand rollout mean for patients?

“Spending the last two years working together, now putting the name out there, our associates and physician partners are driving in Milwaukee, up north, to the Fox Valley, to Racine, and they’re seeing the size and scale of Ascension. They’re proud of that and they’re excited about that as we continue to make more investments and put the Ascension sign in more communities.

“Externally, as far as the consumer goes, we think it’s important that they understand how to access faith-based health care with an organization that is mission-oriented and purpose-driven ….  We want people in the community to know where Ascension is. It’s important to have our facilities have that brand so they know how to access us.”

Why is Ascension investing in more clinic-based sites?

“In 2016, we brought together our four legacy systems and in looking at our services, we realized they were very hospital-centric. Certainly our inpatient services, but a lot of our outpatient services also happened on or near our hospital campuses. We determined that we needed to move ambulatory services off our campuses and bring care closer to home for individuals in their neighborhoods and communities. That move is strategically important for us. It creates a better experience for people and we can deliver it at a much more affordable cost point.

“We also had some gaps in care. I’ll use Milwaukee as an example. We had Columbia St. Mary’s and Wheaton that were historically competitors and were now bringing them together as one integrated health care system. We have a great distribution of our hospitals and we have primary care clinic locations, but we needed to look at what care we are not providing. We’ve created clinical service line structures and invited physicians to come around the table and help us realize where we need to make investments in new tech to enhance service offerings and determine what physicians we need to recruit.”

What will Ascension’s investment in more clinical sites mean for hiring?

“Through our ambulatory expansion and new primary care clinics, including one in Shorewood and Racine, over the next two years, we have a goal to recruit an additional 100 primary care physicians.”

What benefits does the consolidation of health care bring? How does it impact costs?

“Collaboration of our physician partners. You start to share best practices and have physician partners collaborating with each other. You have great ideas come forward.

“Ascension, both here in Wisconsin and nationally, is really interested in creating the greatest value for the communities we’re in. We’re working to design our delivery system. Can we be innovative on design and delivery to have an impact on total cost of care?

“We’re also advocating, both at the state and federal level, as well as with commercial payers, to move from fee for service to fee for value. We want to see more reimbursement to providers be tied to value. Value is quality, experience, but also the ability to deliver health care more cost-effectively.”

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